Responding to the Prime Minister’s keynote speech outlining the Government’s negotiating position on exiting the EU, campaigners called on Ms May to “immediately and unilaterally” protect the status of Europeans residing in Britain.
A joint statement issued by the3million – which campaigns to preserve the rights of British citizens in Europe and Europeans in the UK after Brexit – and several migrant rights groups called for a guarantee to be made before Article 50 is triggered.
Ms May has set a deadline of the end of March to begin renegotiating Britain’s position in Europe.
But activists fear the rights of EU workers could be used as a bargaining chip in the upcoming Brexit talks.
The statement, issued hours after Ms May ruled out guaranteeing EU workers’ status in the UK, read: “It is extremely disappointing that the Prime Minister has not used this speech as an opportunity to unilaterally guarantee that all European citizens or those living in the UK under the protection of EU treaty rights will have the right to remain here after Brexit.
“All EU citizens resident in Britain should get a firm assurance in law that they will be able to continue living in the UK, with exactly the same rights of residence as they have now.
“This should happen no later than the moment at which Article 50 is triggered to end the uncertainty that millions of our family members, our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours are experiencing."
Ms May said in her speech that she hoped to deal with the issue of protecting rights for EU nationals in Britain “as soon as possible”.
“I have told other EU leaders that we could give people the certainty they want straight away, and reach such a deal now,” she said.
“Many of them favour such an agreement - one or two others do not - but I want everyone to know that it remains an important priority for Britain - and for many other member states - to resolve this challenge as soon as possible. Because it is the right and fair thing to do.”
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
But former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticised the Prime Minister's stance on EU workers' rights.
The Labour MP tweeted: "Start of May speech says protect workers rights. End threatens to ditch them/UK model if we don't get deal we want. So much for protection!"
The statement released by a coalition of organisations, which includes the Migrant Rights Network and think tank the New Economics Foundation, said the group “rejects the notion that no guarantees can be given until the European Union offers the same guarantees to British citizens living in Europe”.
It added: “The UK voted to leave the EU, so the onus is on our Government to take the lead in resolving this issue, which stems directly from that vote.
“We know the vast majority of Britons support our call, whether they voted Leave or Remain in last year’s referendum, so if the Government takes action now it will help to unite the country.”
A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: "We have been clear that we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living in the UK and the only circumstances in which that wouldn't be possible is if British citizens' rights in the EU were not protected in return.
"As the PM said, she has told other leaders that we could reach a deal now, but some do not favour an agreement at this stage.
“It's an important priority for us and we'll continue to proactively engage with our European counterparts to resolve this as early as we can.”Reuse content